Generation low on hope: City facing youth unemployment crisis

EDINBURGH is facing a youth unemployment crisis after new figures revealed the number of young people out of work long-term has quadrupled in the past year.

New figures from the Office for National Statistics showed the number of 18-to-24-year-olds claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) for more than 12 months had risen nine-fold in a single year in some areas.

In April, there were there were 5665 claimants aged between 18 and 24 in Edinburgh and the Lothians, 780 of whom had not been in employment for at least one year.

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The Westminster constituency of Edinburgh South saw the number claiming the benefit rise by 800 per cent when comparing last month with April 2011, albeit from a low base of five to 45.

Overall, Edinburgh has 2925 claimants, of whom 335 have been jobless for more than a year. The next-highest by constituency was East Lothian, which saw a rise of 467 per cent.

In the constituency of Livingston, there were just 20 young claimants last April who had not worked in a year but that had hit 105 by last month. Altogether, there are 1410 on Jobseekers’ Allowance in West Lothian.

Youth support groups believe the real level of unemployment among young people is likely to be significantly higher than the JSA claimant count suggests because of what they described as a stigma around signing on for benefits.

City leaders said the rise in unemployment among young people is worrying and demonstrated a “growing problem” but said they are committed to offering every pupil leaving school the opportunity to attend college, enter an apprenticeship or secure a job under the Edinburgh Guarantee.

In Edinburgh across all age groups, the number of claimants rose by around 650 to 11,765 as of last month.

Edinburgh South Labour MP Ian Murray claimed too little focus had been placed on employment and only now is the extent of the increase coming to light.

He said: “We’re heading for a situation not seen since the 1980s, when generations of young people were written off forever.

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“The UK government is pursuing the wrong economic policies and making things worse, while the Scottish Government is so obsessed with independence it has taken its eye off the ball on what really matters.”

Despite seeing significant increases in youth unemployment, Edinburgh still fares well nationally, with five per cent of those aged 18 to 24 out of work. This compares favourably with 9.4 per cent in Glasgow, but was significantly higher than Aberdeen with 3.4 per cent.

The figure for Midlothian was 9.8 per cent, ninth worst of out of the 32 local authorities. In West Lothian, 9.2 per of young people were on benefits, while in East Lothian the figure was 7.6 per cent.

The worst local authority for youth unemployment remains North Ayrshire, where 13.7 per cent of those aged 18 to 24 claim benefits for being out of work.

In Edinburgh, new city education leader Paul Godzik, who will be formally appointed to the position tomorrow, said the city council was well aware of the scale of the challenge faced to get young people into employment.

He said offering school leavers not planning to attend university opportunities before they finished their final term would ensure they do not add to the number of long-time unemployed.

Councillor Godzik said: “Youth unemployment figures both nationally and locally are worrying and there’s no doubt it is a growing problem right across the UK.

“The Edinburgh Guarantee is a demonstration of our commitment to this challenge. This is specifically to help school leavers and ensure they don’t get sucked into long-term unemployment.”

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Last month, a labour market report by the Scottish Trades Union Congress showed there were 43,685 Scots aged between 18 and 24 claiming JSA, 127 per cent higher than the total of 19,245 in December 2007.

The number of people receiving the benefit for more than 12 months stood at 5210 in March – more than twelve times the figure for December 2007 when there were 415 claimants.

Among the local groups working with those struggling to find employment is the Muirhouse Youth Development Group.

It creates social enterprises to give those involved experience of running projects, and helps to build the confidence of its members with activities such as its Northern Lights voyage around the coast of Scotland.

Manager Peter Johnston said many of those in the area struggled to secure jobs because there are fewer available, but also suggested many were not prepared for the challenges of some workplaces.

Mr Johnston said: “In terms of opportunities for young people, there’s been a definite decrease. Getting places on apprenticeships and getting into college is difficult and many of our young people are at the bottom of that scale.

“In terms of opportunities, the kinds of jobs they’ve been offered aren’t the kind of jobs they want to do. The expectations they are given is beyond what is out there for them. They may be offered a job in cleaning but they won’t stick at it because they don’t have the interest.

“We actually find a lot of young people can’t access certain schemes because they’ve not signed up to Jobseekers’ Allowance. There is a stigma around it and they avoid it.”

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Mr Johnston said the scale of the task is to pique the interest of young people as a way of preparing them for the workplace.

He said: “We find something which hooks them into work. We’ve set up our own social enterprise to capture the interest of young people that are furthest away from employment and training. Our group now employs about ten young people either through the community jobs fund, sports academy apprenticeships and the Edinburgh jobs fund. We pay them on an hourly basis and we move towards getting them ready for a job.”

Edinburgh East MP Sheila Gilmore, a Labour representative on the work and pensions committee at Westminster, who highlighted the figures this week, claimed the 335 more young people in long-term unemployment in Edinburgh would be helped into work if the government adopted her party’s Real Jobs Guarantee.

The policy would involve the government paying a business to cover 25 hours of work per week at the minimum wage for six months, giving workers £4000. The firm would also cover ten hours of training per week, with the aim to offer the individual a permanent job at the end of the contract or secure a job with another firm.

The £600 million policy, launched in March, would be funded by a tax on bonuses handed out by banks and other financial institutions.

The coalition has launched a £1 billion youth contract, sponsored by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, which will give employers £2275 to take on 18-to 24-year-olds for six months.

The scheme is aimed at a total of 160,000 people but does not provide a wage or training.

Ms Gilmore said: “With Britain falling into a double-dip recession made in Downing Street, young people in Edinburgh are paying the price. The number of young people out of work for a year in Edinburgh is up in the last year, yet complacent ministers simply aren’t doing enough to get people off benefits and into work.

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“Here in Edinburgh 335 would be helped into work if this government brought in Labour’s Real Jobs Guarantee.”

You have to take what you can

Brett Wright studied catering at Telford College with the hope of working in the hotel and restaurant trade, but was unable to find a job after searching for a year and a half.

The 22-year-old said he and many of those on his course were left unemployed long-term despite having secured a qualification they believed would land them a decent job.

He said: “I finished my course but I couldn’t find anywhere that was taking people on, hotels, restaurants. A lot of people I knew were in the same boat. After about a year and a half I stopped looking.”

Mr Wright, from Muirhouse, said he was frustrated by repeated applications being turned down but was determined to secure employment. He began volunteering with the Muirhouse Development Youth Group to gain experience and was taken on as a paid member of staff.

He said many of the young people he mentors struggle to find jobs and find themselves getting in trouble.

He said: “Even though I stopped looking for a job I wanted to start volunteering and that’s how I ended up where I am now, with a paid job on the team.

“I think there are jobs out there but you have to look in the right places.

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“A lot of people I meet have turned down jobs, because they’re expecting better jobs than there are going.

“I think sometimes you have to take the job you can and go from there.

“I enjoy my work, it makes a difference and helps people to stay out of trouble.”

Bruce in apprenticeship call

SUE Bruce has called on private-sector firms to give more school-leavers the opportunity to join them as apprentices.

Speaking as Scottish Apprenticeship Week got under way, the city council chief executive said many leavers were excellent candidates who would become valued members of staff given the right training and support.

Every year several hundred pupils in Edinburgh finish school with no employment, training or place in further education.

The council currently employs 70 apprentices in departments such as health and social care and library and information Services.

Her comments came as motoring giant Arnold Clark said yesterday that 80 per cent of applicants for its apprenticeships were “unsuitable for any employment” in a hard-hitting report to MSPs.

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A culture of “wholly unrealistic expectations” towards the workplace lay behind the decline.

However, Ms Bruce said many of the candidates the council had seen had the potential to be “valued members of staff”.

She said: “We have been very impressed with the quality of candidates seeking apprenticeships and those that we have taken on have already had a positive impact.

“I would like to appeal to companies to give our young people a chance and to consider taking on apprentices. Investment in young talent is vital.”

Usman Wali, 18, from Fairmilehead, left Boroughmuir High hoping to enter the job market.

Despite sending up to 30 CVs to firms every week for three months he found most would not take him on without any experience.

However, he secured an apprenticeship with the council’s building standards department.

He said: “I ended up looking for three months without any luck then I got a call from Careers Scotland.

“Now I work on the building standards department and I learn a lot about business administration. This is a great stepping stone and hopefully I’ll be given a full-time job.”